preschooler-independenceAlthough it may be hard to imagine your preschooler as an adult, that day will come — and when it does, you’ll want him or her to make the right choices and manage his or her daily life. And the way you make that happen, an expert quoted in says, is to slowly let go of the things you do for young children, “while keeping the safety net of family rules and limits firmly in place.” The article also notes that, yes, it can take both “wisdom and guts” to know how to make this happen.

When you keep doing tasks for your child rather than teaching him or her how to do them, you’re sending a message that you don’t have confidence in his or her abilities. As an expert quoted in says, this can lead to a child who “lacks independence, self-esteem and problem-solving skills and who can’t — or won’t — do age-appropriate tasks.”

To help, here are three ways to encourage independence in young children.


Identify Opportunities and Prioritize Them

First, make a list of what your child could be doing without help. Then ask which ones he or she feels “big enough to take on.” Prioritize these and transfer the responsibilities one at a time, so your child doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Encourage your child!

Make Enough Time (the Goal is Independence, Not Perfection!)

If you’re going to have your child take on the task of hair brushing and you estimate it will take 10 minutes, make sure your child starts getting ready for the day 10 minutes earlier than before. Because the goal is not perfection, you may need to adjust how you look at the situation. Young children won’t perform the new task as well as you could, and that’s OK.

Ensure that Expectations are Age Appropriate shares three activities to encourage independence appropriate for children who are pre-K and up. The first is to schedule a drop-off playdate, which makes it easier for your child to form an independent relationship “away from hovering.” For some children, this is simply a natural step forward. If you have doubts about your child’s readiness, then start with a friend in the neighborhood. That way, you can quickly and easily pick him or her up if the playdate doesn’t go well.

This is also the age when young children can become more involved in food prep, including tasks such as spreading peanut butter with a knife. As a bonus, when your child becomes part of meal prep at a young age, he or she can also learn how to make healthy food choices.

The article also lists a third age-appropriate idea to consider: sending your child to camp. There are few places as tailor-made to encourage independence than camp — and if your child isn’t ready to go to an overnight camp, there are significant benefits to day camp.

As you may already know, we’re a huge fan of summer camp for young children as a way to encourage independence and to help them build social skills. A quote that we love on that subject: “The building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning and contributing. Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas and even beyond home and school.” (Michael Popkin, family therapist and founder of Active Parenting)

If you’re ready to encourage your child to become more independent and build self-esteem in healthy ways, watch for news about our 2019 summer camp!

Horizon Summer Camp